VIERA, Fla. – When Gerald Dion decided to go for a walk after his day of teleworking Oct. 16, it was the first time he had walked in months. For a family in his neighborhood, his decision to exercise that day may have saved their lives.
Dion, the unit program coordinator for the 333rd Recruiting Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, has been teleworking for the past seven months.
“I haven’t walked in about four months since the weather is so hot and humid here,” he said. “It was just by chance the weather was cooler and we had a nice breeze that day that led me to take a walk.”
Not long after Dion told his wife he was leaving and he started on his trek, he noticed smoke coming from down the street.
“Since I drive past that area daily, I knew there was nothing over there that could be causing the smoke,” Dion said. “So I sent a photo to my wife and then started running toward the area. Once I made the right off of my street, I could see a massive plume of black smoke blowing toward my direction.”
When Dion arrived at the burning home, he saw an older gentleman standing in the driveway and two cars burning inside the open garage. Thinking the home belonged to the man outside, he asked if anyone was inside the home. The man responded he didn’t know. Dion knew he had to act swiftly.
“That’s when I went to the door and looked inside the window and noticed a female holding a baby,” he said. “I began pounding on the door and yelling the house was on fire and to get out.”
Due to the intensity of the situation, Dion doesn’t even remember how he got in the house. But, he did make sure he quickly helped the family escape a dangerous situation.
“Once I entered the house, there was a mother with a young newborn baby, two school-aged kids and two dogs,” Dion said. “The mother and younger kid left the house and I remember saying, ‘grab the dogs.’ The older daughter took the bigger dog and I picked up the smaller dog.
“I remember when I got outside, I was yelling for a leash because the dog was squirming and I didn’t want to drop her and have her run away from all the commotion. The daughter handed me a leash. Their reaction was surprisingly calm. I thought they would have been in shock over what was happening to their house.”
Dion spent 22 years in the Air Force, 17 of those in security forces. He said his training prepared him for this moment.
“I do feel my years wearing the uniform and the countless hours of training I received helped me to quickly access the situation and instantly react to the fire,” he said.
Deputies from the sheriff’s department arrived within five minutes.
“The deputy yelled and asked if everyone was out and I replied, ‘yes,’ so he didn’t approach the house and went to help the fire fighters who arrived minutes later,” Dion said. “Someone from the fire department asked me what I saw and I told them where the fire was burning when I arrived and they took some of my photos.”
Dion and many neighbors stayed around while the fire fighters worked on putting out the fire.
“We have a pretty tight-knit community and within minutes of the fire, people were posting on our community Facebook page about how they could help,” he said. “The community ultimately collected thousands of dollars in gift cars for the family, as well as clothes and other items. The family posted a thankful message to the community for everything.”
Several neighbors told Dion he was a hero for his actions.
“I don’t feel like I’m a hero,” he said. “I didn’t feel my life was in danger at any time. I feel anyone would have done the same thing, especially those who have dedicated their lives to wearing the uniform.”
Not only does Dion not feel like a hero, he isn’t crazy about the accolade that have followed.
“I just want it to all go away. Honestly, if I knew it was going to be like this, I probably wouldn’t have said anything about it,” he said.
Despite Dion’s humble reaction to his acts of courage, his squadron’s leadership feels his actions were heroic.
“As a commander, when you hear about one of your troops doing something heroic, I feel nothing but pride,” said Lt. Col. Marcus Stevenson, 333rd RCS commander. “Many people say what they would do in a situation like this, but only true heroes act. The first thing I said to him was ‘thank you.’ The second thing I said was ‘are you okay?’”
While Dion clearly used his training to assess the situation, Stevenson said he believes his actions have a lot to do with his character.
“I do think his security forces background helped him understand what to do, but I believe his natural care for people is why he did what he did,” he said. “Heroes don’t do it for the credit, they do it because it’s the right thing to do. Mr. Dion did not want the credit. He was satisfied knowing four people are safe because of his actions.”
While Dion never completed his walk that day, he definitely succeeded in raising his heartrate.
“I looked at my Apple watch later that night since I was recording my walk,” he said. “My heart rate registered 173, up from 122.”